I am just getting back into the routine of making dinner, now that the babies are (sort of) on a schedule and I know when there is a 30ish minute window to cook. Not sure when there will be a window to cook and take photos, so I am re-sharing one of my favorite dinners that I posted a while ago. I have been craving it, and it is such a cozy comforting dinner. It is just special enough though that it could be made for a holiday, and the green from the spinach and flecks of red from the pancetta make it perfect for a Christmas Eve or Christmas day spread.
It has just snowed in New Hampshire and the temps have turned to arctic, and every night we are craving a comforting, stick to our ribs kind of dish exactly like this one. It is from Giada De Laurentiis, and is one of her viewers most requested recipes. No wonder – the asiago cheese and garlic give the spinach the most perfect, fragrant flavor. And the salty chewy pancetta bites round out the dish.
I also love that this dish uses mostly pantry and fridge staples. If you call pancetta, asiago and ricotta staples, which I do now after this dinner made it into our rotation. I keep my pancetta in the freezer if I don’t use it right away. You can cook your shells ahead of time with lots of oil so they don’t stick, and store in a bag in the fridge until you are ready to use.
And the hint of nutmeg in here makes this somehow a taste that you keep wanting to go back to. So you may want to make double.
The way the garlic simmers in the cream sauce (I used milk by the way but cream is the way to go if you have it) fills the whole dish with such a subtle flavor. It tastes like you are at a wonderful Italian restaurant, with such decadent, subtle flavors. I also use mozzarella on the top because the kids love it and it melts beautifully.
Every time I start stuffing these shells, I always dream about other combinations of flavors I could put in them. But then I take a bite:
And I promise myself to make these again exactly like Giada does because it is pretty perfect.
So if you are looking for a new special dish this Christmas, I promise you will thank me. And there are still 12 other nights left that we need to eat dinner too, and it will delight them on a random Tuesday as well.
Hope your shopping list is short and your wood pile is high!
Shells with Crispy Pancetta and Spinach (printer version found on Food Network here) –
1 (12-ounce) package jumbo shells pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound thick-cut pancetta, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 pounds frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated asiago cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup cream (or milk)
2 cups grated asiago cheese, plus 1/4 cup
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
For the shells:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.
Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large bowl. Add the spinach, ricotta cheese, asiago cheese, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Stuff the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture each and place the stuffed shells in a large, buttered baking dish.
For the sauce:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to very low and add the 2 cups asiago cheese, parsley, and pepper. Stir until the cheese is dissolved. Pour the sauce over the shells. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup asiago cheese. Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis at foodnetwork.com